Saturday, February 20, 2010

Take me to the River

It takes so long to get anywhere in this country. I am still used to floatplane travel, climb in beside pilot John, take off from Sitka, minutes later you have gone fifty miles and are on the other side of the island. Here, you drive. And drive. From my house I can see the slim profile of the Seven Devils, the Idaho side of Hells Canyon, but it takes forever to get there, up and down the Rattlesnake Grade from Enterprise, past the place with good cookies, but not stopping because we are on a time crunch. Then jump into another pickup with Mike and drive over past Grangeville and up and over the saddle to Pittsburg landing, where the jet boat sits. Total windshield time: four and a half hours, three states.

We fire up the jet boat and head up river to Temperance Creek Ranch, where we meet with an outfitter to chew over his permit. They have flown in from Lewiston in a small plane, landing on a bumpy dirt and grass airstrip at the ranch. Total travel time for them: half an hour. Done with the schmoozing, we power back upriver to look at some rapids (huge, boat-swallowing holes! Wow!) and to hike up to a mysterious set of rocks where some ancient textiles were found by a hiker. (Note for future adventures: trails go up and down the river, looks like a great backpack trip). Tony and Mike worry the question: were the textiles cached by an individual weaver or were they community property, left for any female weaver to use? It matters in terms of patrimony, a repatriation thing I only partially understand. Personally I think, with no conclusive evidence, that it was one weaver, stopping here on a brilliant, fresh-washed sunny day like this one, who set aside her weaving to admire the spots of green beginning to dot the canyon walls. My weaving, she thinks, can wait for another day.

Time to go, we load up and travel downriver to the Kirkwood Ranch, which has a funky old homestead, a campground, and a log cabin museum crammed with interesting farming implements. The volunteer bounds out to greet us—he has just returned from a downcanyon hike to see some pictographs. Each volunteer stays here a month. This one is sleeping on the screened in sleeping porch of the main house, hearing the river all night long. It is enough to make me reconsider: maybe I should apply for that remote residency on the Rogue River after all.

We don’t want to go, but Mike hustles us back to the boat with his water sample. I smile to see the mailbox—there is a mailboat up and down the river every three days. We hurry downriver to the launch, where we reverse order to return to Enterprise. Total river miles: 25. Hours on the river: 4.

It is nearly eight pm when we return to our sleepy town. Tony and I mumble goodbyes and head to our respective houses. Still the river sings inside me.

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